Connecticut U.S. Rep. Jim Himes is worried that “we’ll have foreign policy by Twitter” under President-elect Donald Trump, that’s why he introduced the Reclamation of War Powers Act, a bill he claims would return the power to wage war back to Congress.
“The need for this authority is more urgent right now than ever before,” Himes said. “We have checks and balances in place when it comes to all kinds of policy-making but not on war-making.”
In the years following 9/11, “we have ceded that power more and more to the President to the point where, now, we operate in state of perpetual pseudo-war where neither the executive or Congress is ultimately responsible,” Himes said. “That has to end. It’s Congress’s right. It’s Congress’s duty.”
The power to make and execute war is granted to Congress in Article I section 8 of the Constitution.
“Congress should have reasserted its war-making authority a long time ago, and I have voted to make that happen even under President Obama, but it’s more important to do it now that we’re going to have such a volatile President in the White House,” Himes said.
Himes said Congress, since World War II, has increasingly abdicated its authority over declaring war to the President, whether the President was a Republican or a Democrat.
Denying that he is targeting Republicans, and specifically, Trump, Himes said he has clashed in the past with Obama about the President using the Authorization for Use of Military Force reasoning to go to war with ISIS, without Congressional approval, even though Himes stressed he supports the action.
Himes, a Democrat, said he doesn’t expect his bill to be acted on by the lame duck Congress which concludes its work in a few weeks and he knows it will be tough to get it passed in the new Congress, with a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“It’s going to be hard because some of my Republican colleagues are likely to see this as being directed at the new president,” Himes said. But, “We have an untested president when it comes to foreign policy. And Congress is complicit by just being silent. It’s a big mess.”
The bill has three main provisions, according to Himes:
—Congress won’t fund the introduction of U.S. armed forces into hostilities without a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by an attack or imminent threat of attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or the Armed Forces.
—When requesting a declaration of war or Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the President must issue a report outlining the threat faced, the objectives and justifications of the conflict and a description of the anticipated scope and duration of the action.
—Prior Authorizations for Use of Military Force, including the AUMFs for Iraq and Afghanistan will be repealed 180 days after enactment of this bill.
‘Several comments from President-elect Donald Trump have raised concern about the scope and circumstances in which the Armed Forces will be used in the future, especially with regards to the conflict with ISIS and honoring our country’s NATO experience,” Himes said.
“Donald Trump has no foreign policy experience, has signaled to the world that he plans to use his unpredictability as a deterrent and claims to have a secret plan to defeat ISIS.”
Professor Douglas M. Spencer, associate professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Connecticut, agreed with Himes’ assessment that Congress has the ability to stop a president from declaring war “at anytime it has the will to.”
“Congress doesn’t want to be blamed for going into a bad war,” Spencer said. “So Congress may complain but doesn’t do anything to stop it.
“It becomes a political game of chicken,” continued Spencer. “And the president continues to do what he wants to do.”
Asked whether he thought Himes’ bill had a chance to pass in a Republican-held Congress, Spencer said he was skeptical, but did add: “This kind of resolution could get some support from the more moderate Republicans in Congress.”
Also skeptical that a Republican-led Congress would pass the bill was Quinnipiac University Constitutional Law Professor William Dunlap.
“Very, very unlikely,” said Dunlap, “considering that in the slim chance the bill did pass through both the House and the Senate, any president would certainly veto it – meaning you would need to get a two-thirds vote by both chambers.
“That would be almost impossible,” said Dunlap.
Dunlap agreed with his fellow professor, Spencer from UConn, that Congress has been more than willing to “complain from the sidelines” and let whichever president was in the oval office make the choice about going to war.
“There is really no absolute yes or no answer,” Dunlap said, about whether the president or Congress is the decision-maker on deciding to go to war. “But,” he added, “clearly the Constitution makes it clear Congress has the power and the authority if it chooses to use it.”